Telomere length and telomerase activity during folliculogenesis in mammals
Telomeres are repetitive non-coding DNA sequences located at the ends of chromosomes in eukaryotic cells. Their most important function is to protect chromosome ends from being recognized as DNA damage. They are also implicated in meiosis and synapse formation. The length of telomeres inevitably shortens at the end of each round of DNA replication and, also, as a consequence of the exposure to oxidative stress and/or genotoxic agents. The enzyme telomerase contributes to telomere lengthening. It has been reported that telomerase is exclusively expressed in germ cells, granulosa cells, early embryos, stem cells, and various types of cancerous cells. Granulosa cells undergo many mitotic divisions and either granulosa cells or oocytes are exposed to a variety of genotoxic agents throughout folliculogenesis; thus, telomerase plays an important role in the maintenance of telomere length. In this review article, we have comprehensively evaluated the studies focusing on the regulation of telomerase expression and activity, as well as telomere length, during folliculogenesis from primordial to antral follicles, in several mammalian species including mice, bovines, and humans. Also, the possible relationships between female infertility caused by follicular development defects and alterations in the telomeres and/or telomerase activity are discussed.